New Year, New Existential Crisis: Realistic resolutions for actors

By Alexa Morden

Christmas trees are looking sad, mince pie packets are mere crumbs and another year of “New Year New Me” tweets are on the horizon, while actors across the world have mini breakdowns of “what am I doing with my life and am I really embarking on another year of this crazy unpredictable industry and lifestyle?!” We asked listeners on twitter for their New Years resolutions that will hopefully make it all a little bit easier and here they are with some thoughts from me on how to realistically stick to them!

“To focus on my own journey and not be swayed by others.” (@sopheleni)

Ahhh yes “comparison is the thief of joy”. Not comparing myself is something that is always on my mind but also something I find very hard to put into action. The number 1 problem? Social media of course! A tool that seems to be crafted purely to cause comparison by only posting the highlights of one’s life but also a tool some argue is essential in networking/finding work/being up to date with all things industry. “You should try a social media blackout!!!” chimes in my well meaning mother when I’m talking about my mental health. She has every right to say that of course, however twitter is how I got contacted by a film maker to be in their short film and by a photographer a few years ago where I did a photoshoot and ended up on the front page of a magazine. So what to do? One things for certain is that it seems like when you’re feeling your lowest is when twitter is a constant stream of “SO EXCITED TO FINALLY ANNOUNCE THAT….!”’s…just to rub it in.

For me I do not find comfort anymore in “it’s just not your time” “just be happy for them!” “your time will come” thoughts. For me I’ve changed my mindset from “stop being a bitter actor Alexa” to “your feelings are completely valid, this sucks, I know you wish everyone including yourself could be getting all the work they deserve, but there’s nothing you can do to control that. Now maybe let’s put our phone away and watch some Ru Paul’s Drag Race instead hmmmm?”

We are CONSTANTLY compared to each other in this industry. From drama school auditions, to agents (“we already have someone like you on our books”), to auditions, to red carpet outfits (“so and so’s outfit marks a compelling difference to the…..”), to reviews, to director’s sifting through self tapes, to people sat at home talking about what they’re watching on tv (“so and so would have done a much better job, this actor is boring!”) to audiences comparing this performance of the show to the performance 10 years ago (“well I thought it was much more convincing when so and so played it at the Novello”) I think it’s LUDICROUS for actors to be told we shouldn’t compare ourselves or our journey’s with other performers when EVERYONE ELSE DOES!! And by saying that it makes people feel like they’re doing something wrong when they, inevitably, do.

It’s really hard when someone you went to drama school with has worked consistently since graduating and is now at the National and filming for Channel 4 on their days off while you still can’t master how to make the perfect cappuccino at the coffee shop you work at to help afford new headshots. OF COURSE you are happy for them (and will be trying your damnedest to get a ticket to go support them!..Maybe they have comps?) But when it’s close to home it’s a reminder of how you’re not doing everything you thought was possible when you first graduated, something which seems to be possible for others so obviously isn’t completely unattainable - why hasn’t it happened to you? (and here comes the spiral into crying into your pillow at 2am….) That doesn’t make you a bad person, or bitter, or terrible for not feeling genuine 100% JOY for every cast announcement all the time. It makes you human. Recognise those feelings, remind yourself your worth doesn’t come from an acting job or a post with 100+ likes on instagram or an “excited to announce” tweet. Remind yourself that the actor you’re stalking online posting rehearsal room pictures from The Donmar has probably felt exactly how you’re feeling right now and probably will again. Don’t let yourself spiral into comparison about things you have no control over. If you’re doing all you can that’s all you can do. Social media analysis of busy working actors will do nothing positive. Go compare RuPaul’s runway looks through the seasons instead.

“To stop myself and other people asking the question ‘what are you up to at the moment’” (@RoseReade)

YES another one that is actually quite hard to do and takes practice. When people ask me what I’m up to at the moment I now answer “well last night I watched 3 hours of Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix, I’m finally up to date with My Favourite Murder podcast and I made the BEST vegan pizza for lunch.” This comes after years of even having to remind MYSELF that I am a person first and an actor second. So I understand the blank stares when I give this answer. I even said in an audition once when asked what I’m up to “Do you mean in life in general or acting stuff?” Just to buy myself some time because I was so confused….they?? had?? my?? CV?? in front?? of?? them??

When talking to other actors this is how it usually goes…“Oh you mean acting wise? Fuck all mate what about you?” “Yeah nothing really for me either.” Because I guarantee if that actor is doing something exciting they would have A) Made an announcement on social media B) Already texted you, if you’re friends C) Somehow wangled it into the conversation before even being asked what they’re up to. AND SO THEY BLOODY SHOULD DO ALL THESE THINGS!!! Getting a performing job is like winning the lottery and you can bet your bottom dollar when I next get a job I’m going to be more excited to tell people than when I got engaged!!

When someone asks what you’re up to we KNOW they don’t mean “are you thinking of going on holiday this summer?” or “are you up to date on Making A Murderer?” It’s a weird, round about way of asking if someone is feeling fulfilled acting wise without actually saying those words. They don’t want to flat out ask. So that’s what I do. When I see a friend or bump into an actor I haven’t seen in a while I ask them first about general life stuff and then pointedly ask “how’s acting stuff?” Because we shouldn’t NOT ask. If it was anyone else in the muggle world we would ask how work is going, what their job is, if they’re enjoying it etc. The difference is we wouldn’t centre that persons entire existence on it. So asking a fellow performer how auditions are/if they have a job coming up/did they enjoy that thing you saw that they did on instagram (because, come on, don’t pretend like you didn’t see it!) is fine and polite and interesting but it’s not phrased in a way that could mean anything when we all know it only means one thing ie “what are you up to?” “how are things?”
I also find that asking pointedly after general life chit chat encourages them to talk openly about it rather than just giving a polite answer to an anticipated question.
”What have you been up to?”
”Oh not much really but keeping my fingers crossed things will be pick up!”
vs
”How are you finding the ol’ #actorslife recently?”
”Agh quite tough actually, I’ve been feeling a bit lost so I’ve decided to give writing a go!”
etc etc etc

HUMAN FIRST. ACTOR SECOND.

"To not be so hard on myself” (@sarahnaughton70)

Totally valid. Totally YES. Totally what we say almost every episode of the podcast. This industry is hard enough as it is without throwing YOURSELF giving you grief into the mix. If your friend came to you with mascara down their face and stomach cramps from spending all day in the foetal position would you say to them the things you say to yourself? Whenever you have thoughts enter your mind mentally beating you up, imagine it’s Donald Trump saying those things. Then promptly tell him to FUCK off.

Do you have New Years Resolutions? Let us know in the comments or tweet us! @the98percentpod And if you’d like to write a blog, get in touch using the contact us page or email the98percentpod@gmail.com


Alexa is one half of The 98% podcast. One of her Dad's favourite performances of hers was playing Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach in the annual local Stagecoach production when she was about 8 years old. You can find out a lot of stories and thoughts from Alexa by listening to The 98% wherever you get podcasts! Or by having a mooch around this website and following her on twitter @alexamorden and instagram @alexa_morden!

Panto: Enough Jakeman’s throat sweets to last a lifetime

By Lauren Waine

For many, Christmas means joy and cheer, parties and socialising, snuggling under a blanket with a hot chocolate (or toddy!) and feeling warm, fulfilled and merry. However, for many, Christmas means one thing and one thing only... pantomime! Panto is the highlight in every actor’s calendar; secure a lovely pantomime gig and you are set for winter. Store up your earnings and you are set for a secure and safe New Year too. After gruelling auditions where you have to sing, dance, act, show your best party trick and tell a joke to a panel of people who demand the very highest of standards for their panto, often you are exhausted before you’ve even began rehearsals for the thing!

Nonetheless, we all love it. Or loathe it. Or love to loathe it. ‘Oh no we don’t! Oh yes we do!’ You get the gist. One thing is for certain, panto is hard work. In no other job are you subjected to a room of screaming, snotting, sugar-fuelled children who have the potential to deafen you with their frequently wonderfully timed comments and yells of “it’s behind you”! For those of you who have yet to experience pantomime, I understand this description could be off-putting but do not fear; once you have finished that show, there is only another 73 left to do in the run! Joking aside, the hours are long and that’s before you even get to tech. How to describe a technical rehearsal for a pantomime? Imagine being trapped in an empty auditorium with various actors shaking from the high intake of caffeine they’ve been topping themselves up with, all the while there’s a large volume of people dressed in black running from stage right to stage left trying to stop pieces of the set from taking out one of the child dancers and the director is sat with their head in their hands as the custard for the ‘mess/slop’ scene is congealing and spurting out of all the wrong pipes making the entire scene look like a rough and ready adaptation of Willy Wonka.

As tech ends and the run begins, the real fun starts! This truly is the time that all of the long hours and hard work comes to fruition and seeing the reaction on faces both big and small makes you realise the real reason why you do it. Looking out into that auditorium, or community hall or old folks home, you should always feel that extreme rush or pride and joy that you are bringing theatrical magic to a bunch of complete strangers who are ready to be taken on a journey through an enchanted woods, or are magic castle or far off lands or across the seven seas. Performers can gain a bad reputation for being self-indulgent but, in my experience, pantomime is a fantastic tool for actors to forget their inhibitions and have a whale of a time in that world that so many enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong though, sometimes at 10am when you have a hideous cold, your chest is so tight you can’t breathe and you’ve taken enough Jakeman’s throat sweets to last a lifetime, the last thing in the world you want to do is sing another song from The Greatest Showman. My advice in those moments is to look out into that audience and see the little boy or girl in the front row who is singing along with you, never taking their eyes from yours and wishing that one day, they will be on that stage doing what you are doing now. For me, that is what helps me whack out my best ‘5,6,7,8’ even in those moments of fatigue and winter flu. Many people ask about what the hardest thing about pantomime is. Is it the stamina required to get through 3 months worth of shows? Is it remembering all the lines? Is it being heard over the screams of children?

There are two most difficult things about being in panto-
1: Getting your fake eyelashes to stay on fleek for 73 shows, day in, day out
and
2: Working out ways to make your other colleagues outwardly corpse on stage. Once you have number one sorted, it’s time to focus on number two. This is what makes panto so fun to do and keeps every performance fresh and interesting. I’m sure everyone will have some hilarious tales of things they have done to their friends, some classics include: covering your teeth in lipstick and smiling your biggest, teethiest grin to Prince Charming, meddling with props to make them fall apart as soon as you touch them and adding some of the deadliest adlibs that you know your scene is going to crack at.

I have created a list of my top tips for surviving pantomime season:

• Buy a toothbrush- you don’t want to be kissing your prince or princess with the lingering smell of your boiled egg salad.

• Echinacea- this is some form of herbal miracle.

• Use a steamer.

• Never annoy a techie or you could find yourself suddenly plunged into a blackout in the middle of a scene.

• Always ensure your microphone is turned off before you stub your toe backstage or before commenting on your fellow cast-mates’ performances.

• Don’t sleep with a co-star- they are never as attractive offstage as they are on.

• Always say please and thank you to the cafe staff if you ever want a free coffee.

• Remember to laugh at yourself and others.

• The Stage Door Keeper has the best stories- listen to them.

To conclude, I leave you with a little festive rhyme...

Panto comes just once a year,
Filled with song and dance and joy.
It fills us all with Christmas cheer
For every single girl and boy.
It is a time to show the folks
That princesses can be brave.
That the baddie’s schemes were all a hoax
And the kingdom can be saved.
And the dame will always be a hoot
And everyone will yell.
There’ll be laughter and fun to boot,
As all’s well that ends up well.
Panto is for me and you,
Whether you’re big or small.
And so without further adieu,
A Merry Christmas to you all!

Make the most of your time this festive season, remember your lines and don’t walk into the scenery. What could possibly go wrong?


Lauren is an actor from the North East of England, currently based in London. For more anecdotes, you can follow her on Twitter @LaurenWaine_ Lauren is a working class actor and is a huge supporter of working class artists in the industry and is a co-company director of Unearthed Theatre (@unearthedThr). She listens to The 98% on the go and recommends listening to the podcast whenever and however you can!! 

5 reasons to date an actor

By Katie Elin-Salt, a re-blog from Spotlight.com

Did you know that in any given rehearsal room at any given time you are never more than 6 feet away from:

  1. A rat 

  2. A gluten free vanilla soy macchiato 

  3. Someone emphatically proclaiming that they "don’t date bloody actors!" 

Listen, I get it. Most of us generally want a long-term relationship that is drama free - so why in McKellen's name would you actively choose a life partner who has quite literally got a career and possibly a degree in it? No thanks. Firm swipe left to you Mr Cumberbatch, I'll take Tony from HR with his annual leave and a pension, thank you very much. However, unfortunately for the love story of Tony and I, he doesn't exist. For the last 5 years, I have spent time both being an actor and adopting one as my actual live-in lover. Best find some upsides then. Sorry, Tony. 

We have loads of free time for you

Ever woken up next to your S.O. on a Monday morning and desperately wished you could sack off the meetings and spend the whole day eating sausage rolls in your PJs? Well honey, you've come to the right bed! We aren't called to rehearsals till Friday. Wanna go on an impromptu Wednesday picnic? No problem-o. We will sack off the leafleting and butter up the sandwiches. Let's get the first off-peak train to Margate. Everyone knows you can't spell fun-employed without F.U.N.

We can give you free holidays * 

*Holidays may include Halifax, Northampton and/or Crewe 

"Yes, I know we've had that week in Majorca planned since 2014 and we are half way to the airport, but put that Mojito on ice, babe. I've just been cast as ‘tarty girl #6’ in a tour of care homes of Norwich! A-HA!" 

There are times when being an actor takes you to places you never thought you'd go. And sometimes these places are towns that don't have train stations let alone a Pret-A-Manger. But we can have a lovely weekend exploring them together. Let's get drunk at a karaoke night and belt out "Life is a Cabaret" to the bemused locals. Let's go do the ghost walk in York. Let's eat all the oatcakes in Stoke-on-Trent. Let's climb Snowdon. Let's find a pub with no phone signal and worry about nothing except improving Scrabble tactics till Monday. And I promise that after a week of seeing no one but colleagues and the woman in the corner shop who sells us post show pot noodles at 11pm, we will ALWAYS be pleased to see you. 

We are professional liars

Seriously. This is how mamma brings home the bacon, baby. On a stage. On the telly. We lie for an actual living. You may initially feel this to be a negative thing but before you make any snap decisions, let me just assure you that your mum is not as neurotic and annoying as you think she is. And yes, you still look like a wanton sex god/goddess in that penguin onesie. And dinner was absolutely delicious. And of course, I like your sister. Feeling reassured and pretty great about yourself right now? Thought so. That dress looks great on you by the way. 

We are really good at role play

Back in 1994, The Backstreet Boys pleaded with bae to "quit playin' games with my heart.” But would they have been so quick to dismiss the idea if they had the opportunity to play the ZIP ZAP BOING GAME at a professional level with their thespian beau? I doubt it. 

Ever had a secret burning desire to change from fire to ice on a Friday night? Fancy putting on a lion mask and going feral in the front room? Not batting an eyelid mate. There is literally nothing you can think of that is weirder than that thing we did week 4 of voice class at drama school. We are all over it and nothing says sexy like a full character analysis beforehand. Right?!

We will shatter your celeb envy

Ever turned on the TV for comfort on a hungover Sunday morning, only to find a perfect semblance of a human staring back at you with their beautifully formed visage beaming away like an angelic vision of everything you’re not?!

What if the person lying next to, sensing your insecurity, could lean over and whisper gently into your ear:

"That isn't her real nose ...”

“…he's been wearing a wig since 2002.”

“I once saw them at 3a.m. licking apple sours off the floor of Infernos...."

The media might lead you to believe that actors are a better, more toned, better smelling version of the everyman. We on the inside know this isn't true. However, if you step out on a Friday night with one of us on your arm, you can get all of that hard-earned fictitious glory without ever having to step foot in a contemporary dance class. Just don't expect us to pay for the drinks.

 SWIPE RIGHT!


Katie Elin-Salt is one half of The 98% podcast. As well as some acting work she’s chuffed with Katie has also starred as Peppa Pig and Supergirl in various children's parties across the UK. She is a series regular of Judge Judy (playing 'person watching it on the sofa whilst once again not in the gym'.) Hear more from Katie by listening to The 98% wherever you get your podcasts and follow her on twitter @KatieElinSalt!

What if there's no bike?

By Chris Tester

I listen to podcasts, and as an actor, three have recently stood out.  Honest Actors (including Katie’s contributions!), Two Shot Pod and The 98% have all endeavoured to explore the reality of the profession beyond glossy magazine and film interviews.  Though the formats vary widely, frank and honest discussions about how and why people entered the profession, the difficulties they’ve had and the attitudes and values that have shaped them.  The insights I have gained from all of these has been invaluable, reassuring me that a lot of my daily struggles are shared throughout the industry.  But the one common trait that comes across all three is that the interviewed actor tends to be getting auditions.  They might not be getting a ton, they still have to cope with overwhelming rejection - but when the ‘r’ word is raised, it’s typically in the context of having gone for a meeting and not booked the gig (or even heard back - Danny Lee Wynter’s particularly articulate and forthright on that issue, which I believe shows a basic disrespect to an actors’ mental health).  As Denise Gough said, “Stay on the bike and enjoy the fucking ride”.

But as I’m sure at least 98% of actors are aware, the mundane reality is that they can’t even get in the room, or on that fucking bike.  I’ve had four agents since graduating, and the most auditions I’ve had in one year is five.  I’ve had two TV auditions ever.  And one for a feature film.  That’s it. 

The obvious question this prompts, is what to do?  If you don’t get that big break, or simply don’t have the opportunity to get rejected in the first place, how to you constructively work towards a solution?

You can work on getting a better agent, obviously.  But unless you belong to a particular casting niche, they need to see you in something.  So you can prioritise screen work, battle to get decent material and forge together some sort of showreel.  This will almost certainly have issues with production and/or writing standards, but you may strike it lucky and get some brilliant footage you can then approach agents and casting directors - the gatekeepers - with.  Half of my showreel is made up of one independent project I did which was actually well written and had me alongside someone ‘of profile’.  I got it through consistently reaching out to casting directors and film directors and getting a little break. It’s an ongoing project that’s in an actor’s power to change and improve.

You can do rehearsed readings or collaborate on projects with friends to keep sharp.  Occasionally you may even get the opportunity to use such endeavours as a showcase too - though if it’s not in a reputable venue within zone 2, the chances are slim.  A lovely example of this is The Factory, where a bunch of like-minded actors work on classical text and where everyone learns multiple parts, so if someone books a job they can drop out without a problem.  But that’s valuable work for the sake of craft as opposed to designed for getting you in front of potential employers.

You can pay to do ‘workshops’ with casting directors.  Yeah… well, I’ve tried them and find the whole experience quite upsetting.  Everyone in the room desperately trying to impress while all pretending that they’re learning something.  There are a few notable exceptions to that rule, but some are definitely borne of casting directors papering the cracks in their diaries.  The best thing to do is ask other actors who have attended these which session’s they’ve found useful and go from there.

Increasingly, there is a call for wrestling back your autonomy by creating your own work.  This is crucially important on a whole number of levels, but it also necessitates funding it yourself; or that you are able and willing  to wear multiple hats.  I’ve done this myself, producing and performing in a one man show that played in both Edinburgh and London.  It sold out both runs and got fantastic reviews - but cost be £3000 and not one of the 150 industry people I invited came.  So, glad I did it artistically, but not a template I could afford to return to.  

If you’re an actor who has no interest or talent in writing material themselves, you’re necessarily dependent on others to collaborate with - which is tricky in it’s own right, and a skill set you need to cultivate.  Should actors be taking courses on producing their own work?  Almost certainly.  Generally, I think drama schools are starting to encourage this approach more as the market gets more and more saturated.  David Williams Bryan is a great example of someone who is trying to take control for his career back by producing his own solo shows and documenting the whole process on social media.  This helps him build a narrative which people follow and buy in to,  resulting in more collaborative opportunities and increased ticket sales because he has an online audience already invested in the show.  But his model is based on doing one person theatre shows, which is not a format for everyone.


And so….


The profit share model is abused regularly - I wouldn’t dispute that.  Some advocates for such work abuse the model routinely and are consistently profiteering from young actors desperate for a reputable name on their CV.  Higher profile fringe venues pulling that shit I have a real problem with, and the work of Equity to get them to take more responsibility and secure additional funding is vital.

But the crux of the matter comes down to collaboration.  The perceived wisdom is that if the room is hierarchical, and you have someone calling themselves a director conducting rehearsals and giving call times, then that’s not truly collaborative and you MUST be paid as a result.

If someone believes that with no wiggle room, then I fully support their choice.  I also disagree with it.  Five of the low paid projects I’ve done over ten years have been open book.  I’ve been aware where all the money is coming and going, I’ve been given a rehearsal schedule that is flexible to accommodate my day job.  I feel that I need to do at least one show a year providing the project and part are sufficiently exciting, otherwise I feel like I’m stagnating.  These projects have felt collaborative, and I have created work that I’m extraordinarily proud of.  But I also know, having done the sums, that a sold out three week run of a 50 seater theatre isn’t going to pay anyone a living wage on the current model.  You need external funding for that.  

I keep asking people where this funding comes from.  I appreciate that private funding can be secured for projects, but it’s a HUGE long game - I’m six months into organising the run of a show at a sufficiently reputable venue that it will attract high profile industry and reviewers alike, but it’s going to take me a year or two to raise the 50k I need to pay everyone properly… so do I just not do any acting over that time?  

It’s an honest question.  I’m white, male and middle class.  I’d fully agree that the industry isn’t crying out for any more of my demographic.  The reason I’m able to keep afloat and be selective about the projects I do isn’t because of any family or saving support, but because I’ve managed to build a living from voiceover work.

But I want to keep on the bike.  The journey doesn’t involve many auditions for me at this stage, but I’m constantly looking for work I can stretch myself in and have no intention of quitting.  If people want to dismiss a third of my CV as amateur because it’s low paid, then that’s a problem I can’t solve.  I keep methodically writing to people in the industry whenever I have news for them.  But I do get a bit tired when all low/profit share work is lumped into one category and written off.  “Professionally made, professionally paid” is a catchy and commendable slogan, but shouldn’t be used to brow beat those actors who decide to peruse forms of work with shoe-string budgets.  We as actors can only deal with our day to day reality, so looking for viable alternatives and models to keep going in a saturated industry is what I’m all about.  I’d fully admit the current status-quo is imperfect and subject to exploitation. But as long as I keep my sites about me and make informed decisions, I’m not willing to quit either.

To conclude, all I can recommend is that actors evaluate such projects on a case-by-case basis, do their due-diligence and not be afraid to ask about the funding of a project.  That’s not harassing anyone, it’s a question of professionalism and respect.  Get savvy about what venues and casting directors and agents are likely to be willing to visit if that’s your aim - there’s no point in doing five weeks in St Albans and hoping anyone in London is going to come.  But if there’s an opportunity to work with exciting material, alongside talented people who you trust and are willing to accommodate your other commitments so that nobody starved during the process - don’t immediately dismiss it.  It may or may not give you ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’, but try to be clear about what you do  need at this point in your career, and whether any low/no paid option could help facilitate that.


Chris is an actor and voice over from Somerset, based in London.  All that stuff can be found at christophertester.co.uk.  He's also blogged about VO work at naturallyrp.co.uk.  He's mainly active on Instagram @chrisnaturallyrp but plugs stuff on Twitter @CGTester too.

Is It Overdone?

By Eleanor Walker

‘Is it overdone?!’: A question that myself and countless actor friends ask ourselves on a regular basis, referring to a song, or speech, or to the very act of being ourselves in an audition. We are obsessed with being unique and standing out. We spend hours trawling Youtube for the perfect song, even though we all love that one so-and-so did last week in class, and as auditionees, for drama school OR grown up acting jobs, we raid the National Theatre bookshop, throwing away countless great choices of speech that would suit us perfectly. I did it. I chose an obscure piece for my drama school auditions; dated and hardly ever performed any more, that didn’t really suit me or reflect the kind of actress that I want to be. I thought it was a great idea because I wouldn’t have to watch anyone else do the same speech, sat in that dreaded semi-circle on a Saturday afternoon, having been told about seven million times that most people don’t get in to this school in the first year of trying, anyway.

Ironically, I think someone did do the same speech as me at some point, which probably made an already uncomfortable seventeen-year-old me subject the poor teachers at whatever school it was to a rather diabolical show.

Since graduating drama school, I have been known to search the internet for weeks (I had a lot of warning) for a new audition piece, even though I have a ring binder full of them, determined that something ‘perfect’ will appear. A ‘lost gem’. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t.
My theory is this: the speeches that are GOOD have been done before (especially for classical; Shakespeare is so famous because he was the best writer around, and his speeches have all been done a million times over). The songs that are GOOD are the ones that are popular, i.e. there is a reason that the obscure musical performed once in 1999 hasn’t been on Broadway. It’s all well and good finding something ‘unknown’ and shocking or surprising your classmates if you’re still training, or the casting director if you’ve graduated, but that doesn’t make the MATERIAL good.

When I’ve made an obscure choice before, I’ve often found the language hard to access, or the music just not as easy on the ear, or I’ve just been less passionate about the piece… and if you’re not passionate about the piece, how on earth can you give a good performance?

On occasion, I’ve spent hours and hours preparing for an audition, only to get in the room, be handed some sides, and not even get asked to do the piece I’ve just slaved over.  So I now ask myself this question- if there is a chance that I may not even be required to DO this piece, why am I giving myself heart palpitations over it?! I should pick something that I enjoy singing, or a speech from a play that really excites me, and I should do my work on that, which is what I’m good at, and stop wasting hours in an internet wormhole trying to be ‘original’!  

Now, I’m not saying that we should all just stop making bold choices and sing ‘Defying Gravity’ for every audition. Of course not: anything iconic and irrevocably associated with one artist is a little bit daft to choose for an audition. We are not all Idina. Likewise, ‘Gallop apace’ is a fabulous speech; but Shakespeare wrote other roles for women apart from Juliet. However, I am starting to think that maybe we should all stop stressing quite so much about unique material, and more about what we are doing with it. Spending more time doing our research, analysing the text, actioning if that’s your cup of tea. It is this hard work, after all, that will distinguish one from the other people in the room, and it is this hard work that we all claim to be so in love with- that is being an actor.


This post is an updated version of the original, posted on www.eleanoractress.wordpress.com
Eleanor is an Actor and Singer currently living in her hometown, Birmingham. She can regularly be spotted running around after 3 year olds in pre-school drama classes, behind a theatre bar, and in as many yoga classes as she can get herself to. Other hobbies include watching BBC4 History documentaries, dreaming of being in a period drama, and complaining about West Midlands Railway services to London. You can follow Eleanor on Twitter @WalkerEleanor

Yes, I'll Never Be Tom Cruise

By Aidan MacColl

I'm a year out of drama school and my framed degree in my parents living room isn't showing much for itself at the moment. 

I'm currently out of acting work, working in my local pub and living back at home with my parents. Picture the scene; it's a Sunday evening, I'm feeling a little low after seeing friends successful Instagram posts working around the world as various different types of performers. I'm working a closing shift in the pub. I pour the customer their usual order and they say to me, "Aidan, you're still young, why don't give you up the acting and get a normal job and make yourself happy. You're never gonna be Tom Cruise". It couldn't have been timed more tragically perfect. And in that moment a million thoughts ran through my head; fame isn't success, success isn't fame, I've gone to drama school and I have worked, I don't want to be Tom Cruise (I'd much rather be Meryl Strep). Somehow calmly and not through tears I told the man, actually you're not the first person to tell me that and I've worked too hard to get here. 

Here's the thing fellow unemployed drama school graduates. We have achieved something. Whether it feels like it or not. We have chosen to follow a career that makes us happy, we are actually chasing our dreams and for that we are so lucky. There's the slog. The slog we all face at different points in our careers. Even our fellow employed performer friends have faced it and will face it again. 

We are not failures. 

Let's remember we are still human and we're doing the best we can. I'm 22, and I've only just realised that I am still allowed to celebrate that. It's important to have things that keep us happy whilst we are not working. I actually just travelled to America to work at a children's summer camp for a month and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I had people say to me, "but is your agent happy?"
"Will this not put you at a disadvantage?". 
Why wasn't one of the first questions people asked, "will this make you happy?" 

It was a far more difficult decision than it should have been to go and do the job in the States. I felt as if I went I was admitting defeat of I'm not doing anything... but here's the beautiful thing... I wasn't doing anything! This was the time, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and grab the opportunity of my current break in employment and go. I knew that if I were ever in work again, my problems wouldn't all be fixed and I think back to this opportunity and wish I had went. I felt judged and as if this wasn't something I should be doing, I was no longer a student. (This was my 2nd time going to work at the summer camp, I'd done it in a summer break at drama school). Even though I was asked silly questions about the choice by friends and colleagues in this industry,  it was still a pressure I then began putting on myself (a theme I think that's reoccurring). I was also scared of what if I miss an audition? And I had to tell myself that's not a healthy way to live my life. When people take a month's break from any other job it wouldn't be questioned. So why should my month's break be debated? 

I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I met old friends and hung out with them. I met new friends and built such a special bond. People who have nothing to do with our industry and didn't care whether I had mostly recently been on the west end or performed in a care home tour. (Both of which are still employment). I helped with some things to do with drama and their summer musical, I worked in the arts and crafts shop, I worked in their office and ran evening program (different games of big glorified tag, dodgeball, other sports, organising movie nights and discos and more). I moved away from things to do with my degree and my art form (yet still using all the skill sets I've been trained to do - guess what actors are like really employable people in other areas) and I still felt fulfilled, happy and like I'd achieved a lot. 

I returned from the States, a little blue of course because reality is so very different, but mostly ready and re focused and with a much clearer head than I'd had in a very long time. I honestly think it may have saved me from a very dark place in my head I was starting to get to before I went. 

I'm lucky enough to have people around me who encouraged me and understood it's what I needed to do at that moment. But even if that's not the case for you, I urge you to put yourself, your happiness and wellbeing first. So I suppose what I'm trying to say is whatever your thing away from performing is, do it and do it with bells on. Do not apologise for not performing. We should never be ashamed to not be acting and we should never feel bad to have a B job or other opportunities that make us happy. Which is a reminder, let's check in with fellow actor and performer friends as humans first. If someone has something they want to share, they're more than likely going to share. More "how are you?" And less "how are auditions?" 

However, actor friends, I feel there's a certain pressure we put on ourselves when someone asks "how are you?" Or the dreaded question "what have you been up to?" (My personal least favourite). We want to answer in a way that's to do with our acting stuff. I've recently been trying to fight that with real honest answers. A friend of mine phoned me recently and asked, "how are things? What have you been up to?" My answer went a long the lines of, "a lot of Netflix, I finished two series, I went to the gym more than once this week - so that's kind of good, and I'm starting to think I might nap too much". 

We are more than our careers, we are people. We can have other interests and have many of them and we are allowed to have a bad day, week or month. So why don't we put these things to the forefront of our mind when we have these conversations? When I think about my parents over the years socialising with their friends, or working in the pub and watching straight men with other straight men (it's fascinating), when they're asked "how are you?" They don't immediately reply with what they're doing at work or the current stage of their career. They actually talk about how they are, even if that's a simple "aye, awryt you?" (Translated for non Scots: yeah, fine you?). And correct me if I'm wrong but the person doing the asking doesn't necessarily want to know how successful they are in their line of work at that moment. So why do we put that pressure on our ourselves?

Success can be measured in many ways and not just by the amount of performance opportunities and jobs you've had since graduating. We can be successful by building a supportive community for others and ourselves (shout out to 98% podcast). We can be really good at and enjoy our B job. (Which don't get me wrong I do, I just had a bad day). We can venture in to new things like writing a blog (why not?!) or discovering other creative outlets. There's so many things we can do to be successful as humans and not just as performers. 

It's difficult but the less we compare ourselves to others and the more we focus on ourselves and helping others we can feel happier and successful in the strange life and career we have chosen. And when someone tells you you're never gonna be Tom Cruise we can stand with pride and know it's about so much more than that. That's what I'm telling myself.


Aidan is a dog lover and actor from Glasgow. When he is not performing you can find him teaching, working in his local pub and attempting to write (yay, he did it!). Aidan is a big fan of The 98% podcast and tells almost every actor he meets about it. Follow Aidan on Twitter @aidanmaccoll96 for some professional things but mostly just thoughts about Ru Paul's Drag Race and the importance of Mamma Mia.

A thought piece on #YesOrNo

By Alexa Morden

A couple years ago I auditioned for a short film and got down to the final two for the part. Over the space of a couple days I was hearing more from my agent than domino’s promotional offers! “Casting wants to know if you have any allergies?” “Can you send us all your measurements for costume?” “Are you definitely free for the dates? Casting need to be 100% sure you’re free for the filming dates.” “These are the official filming dates, you’re definitely free?” 

I book 3 days off work for the shoot days, to absolutely assure my agent and the creative team that I would be free for filming if I were to get the part. My heart jumps into my throat every time my phone rings… “MUM I CAN’T TALK RIGHT NOW I’M WAITING TO HEAR FROM MY AGENT ABOUT IF I GOT THE PART! THEY KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS SO I CAN’T BE ON THE PHONE RIGHT NOW!” I can’t help but start to daydream about booking the job…the short film was a teaser for a feature film, what if they get funding for the feature and want me to continue playing the role! What could this lead to!!

After all of casting’s questions were answered…crickets. Radio silence. It was me or one other actress who got the part - surely I’d hear soon? More days go past and nothing. My agent tries to chase them up but hear nothing back. It gets to the night before filming…“well maybe the dates changed? Maybe they still haven’t decided?” the little voice in my head tells me. The filming days roll round and I sit at home on the sofa and turn into a bunny boiler, actor style…I’ve found the writer's, director's, producer's and casting director’s twitter. I’ve found the facebook page of the short film where they share announcements. I refresh them all over and over again daily, hourly, looking for a cast announcement so that I can get finality.

Finally the producer tweets “We are very excited to announce the cast for our next short film….” which the casting director retweets and in pour the comments of how exciting it looks. But to me that tweet wasn’t just a cast announcement. There, in 140 characters, was my answer. My rejection. My exhale. A reminder of all the times I’ve never heard back from an audition. A reminder that you can be so close but so far. But most of all a reminder that my time, effort, mental wellbeing, passion, dedication and hard work means nothing. The casting department had been so communicative with my agent when I was in the running, when I was valuable. But as soon as the director/producer/whoever it was made the final decision and I wasn’t valuable anymore - I was disposable. Not worth a phone call to say that in fact I won’t be needed. Now, a casting director may read this and think/know that that of course isn’t the case…but that is how it feels. And it can be all consuming. 

That experience has stuck with me all this time but it doesn’t end there. A few weeks ago this same casting director tweeted how they had a few no show’s to an audition that day and how disappointing it was that no one let them know. That the studio space costs money to rent out by the day and other people could have taken those audition slots. COMPLETELY valid points that I whole heartedly agree with. But I wish they had those same thoughts about those on the other side of the camera. I booked 3 days off work in a 0 hours contract so I missed out on more that £250 waiting to hear about that short film. I could have auditioned/been put up for something else in the time that my agent had blocked off those dates. And that’s just the logistical side of things, not even going into the mental and emotional side of being kept up in the air. What was it that made me not deserve a 30 second phone call of “thank you for your time but it isn’t good news this time.”?

Now this isn’t just a post of me moaning - I don’t go to bed at night and cry about how I didn’t get a part in a short film 2 years ago and how, if it wasn’t for twitter, I would have never even got an answer (ok fine, I've done it a few times ok!!) This blog post comes at a very poignant moment as Danny Lee Wynter (who founded the fantastic Act For Change campaign) is backing the #YesOrNo campaign which is starting a conversation about casting directors letting actors know the outcome of projects they auditioned for. Thankfully the campaign is gaining traction and creating a shift in the industry with many casting offices pledging to now always let auditionees know if/when they didn’t get the part which is a massive fist bump. I think I speak on behalf of the majority of actors when I say how much we appreciate the work the people behind the #YesOrNo campaign is doing.

But actors have been talking about this issue for AGES. And we know, we know, that casting directors are incredibly busy. That they are answering to so many people, that they have so much to do but it seems paradoxal (is that a word? It is now…) for everyone recently to be vocal about supporting mental health difficulties in the performing industry but still to act in a way that can induce anxiety, self doubt, depression, OCD (for example) by leaving actors in limbo. To see casting directors write really touching tweets about how impressed they are with the talented actors they see and what an amazing day of auditions it was and how much they respect the effort actors put in but not respect actors enough as people to give them closure and let them move on to the next audition or be able to book that bloody holiday they are hoping to not be able to go on because that means they booked a job instead. I’ve said from the beginning of my career that I would much prefer a blanket email to all of us 100+ rejectees that simply says “NOPE” than the absolute silence we get practically 100% of the time (unless it’s good news).

The above story I felt was only worth mentioning because I actually got down to the final two and within reaching distance of the role and I wish I could genuinely ask that casting director why they didn't give us an answer. Lack of time couldn't be the reason so I can't help but think they acted that way just because they can. But if we take into account all first round auditions I honestly cannot tell you even one time I heard back about the outcome of an audition without my agent ringing them and asking. If actors can get an email at 6pm on a Wednesday night with an audition at 11am the next morning and arrange to get out of their day job, research the previous work of the casting director/director/producer/writer, read an entire film script, learn 10 pages of audition sides, get a good enough sleep to look presentable at the audition and give a good performance...Or the opposite end of the spectrum; having weeks to prepare, rehearsing the scene with a friend, reading the play front to back more than once, working on the character, having amazing feedback from the people in the room, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to hear about if it’s going any further or not. That's not me insisting that every casting office should get back to every applicant no excuses. Just that actors shouldn't be made to feel like they're asking too much/speaking out of turn to expect/want it. Every other application process in the professional world (that isn’t in the creative industry) as far as I’m aware lets applicants know of the outcome. 

A couple months ago I was reading twitter threads from casting directors saying how they’d love to let actors know the outcome but they just didn’t have time, who are now making the #YesOrNo pledge so it’s great to see most are really starting to now take notice. And there are of course casting offices who have made letting everyone know the outcome part of their casting process for years. There are talks being had with Spotlight to create a “project now cast” box that casting directors can check when all roles are filled which is a great and simple solution.

People, mainly non actors, tend to think that rejection is the hardest part of the audition process. But it actually isn’t. Knowing that you’ve most probably been rejected whilst simultaneously daydreaming about playing that role you poured your soul into for days of preparation is worse. It’s the same as being ghosted in the dating game. A simple “you’re nice but I’m not feeling it” is better than suddenly never hearing from them again, right? Just like a “thanks for coming in but it’s a no this time” may sting but it isn’t the sucker-punch to the gut that is putting your life on hold for weeks and feeling the excitement in your belly grow and then reading a tweet that makes your self worth hit the floor that you then have to consciously work at building up again for it all to happen again for the next audition. Actors love casting directors…thanks to them we get to do that thing we want to do all the time for a part of our day. And we appreciate how hard they work and how amazingly they can multitask in and outside of the audition room. But with ghosting being a common enough thing that there's a word for it, there's enough of it going around in our private lives - it'd be great to minimise it in our professional ones!


Alexa is one half of The 98% podcast. One of her Dad's favourite performances of hers was playing Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach in the annual local Stagecoach production when she was about 8 years old. You can find out a lot of stories and thoughts from Alexa by listening to The 98% wherever you get podcasts! Or by having a mooch around this website and following her on twitter @alexamorden and instagram @alexa_morden!

Less "What's next?" More "What now?"

By Bethany Tennick

I’m writing this behind a bar. A local pub holding an eclectic mix of working men (Bud John- who
only drinks Bud, Charlie- with a cat he named Bastard, and Ponytail Adam), and students from the Conservatoire across the street (Louisa, with her highlights and LuLuLemon leggings, Trumpet Stacey, and Samir- with his fancy camera and theories on why Wes Anderson is ‘just, like, the best’). These people- these friends, regulars, former peers- have one question in common;
“What’s next, Beth?”

Well, Bethany Jean, what the heck is next?
The pub, my family, everyone who cares about me is asking. They don’t mean to cause anxiety,
they really don’t, but they do. Each time someone asks me what’s next my soul leaves my little
blonde body, and I make some joke about being a starving artist, and living la vie boheme.
Everybody laughs, and I go about my day. Jokes aside, I feel like these people only really want to
know whether or not I’m on the West End yet. An upsettingly common definition of success. They
don’t want to hear about the all-female profit share musical I’m doing at the Edinburgh Fringe, or
that the thing I’m most excited about right now is flying to a small Scottish Island next month to
devise a new piece of music theatre. I’m not going into Les Mis. Or Mamma Mia. Or Hairspray.
These things I have that excite me are small, and my Granny can’t sing along to the soundtrack
after a glass of sherry, so my non-theatre family and friends remain uninterested.

What’s next, Beth?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’m about to have two months of solid performance work, more than a lot of people get the summer of graduating from drama school. I came down with a mild case of ‘right place, right time’, and I am riding my miniature wave of success as long as I can. The only thing is- I’m petrified. And I’m not the only one. Everyone I graduated with, even those with work right now, are scared. Scared of that inevitable break in work, that bout of unemployment, that little voice in your head that says “if you were good, you’d have more work”.

What’s next?

My good friend Emma said to me “It’s almost like your life is buffering until you get a job and that
can be okay if you find things to keep you going, like when Netflix is on 99% for ten minutes”. The
summer after graduating from drama school is the ultimate buffering moment. A pause in time. A
raised hammer. A sharp inhale.
She’s right. (Emma’s always had a way with a simile.) Life is buffering, and that doesn’t mean
anything’s broken, or the next chapter in the series isn’t worth waiting for, it just means you need to be patient.
So maybe the question isn’t “What’s next?” but more “What now?” When a film or episode is
buffering, I make tea. I message friends. I send ugly double-chin snapchats to my boyfriend (ah,
the true test of love). These small things don’t serve too much purpose in the long run, but they
make me happy now. This meantime happiness gets me through the seemingly never-ending
buffering, and with this in mind, I’ve discovered a small list of things I can do (as well as some
things suggested by my performer friends) to make the most of my buffering phase.

1) Watch things.
Theatre. Films. Netflix. Your cousin’s new girlfriend’s daughter’s dance show. You could
save up for that West End show you’ve been dying to see, or you could pay a fiver ad
support your local AmDram society. Remind yourself what you’re passionate about, what
you like to watch, and what you want to do.

2) Find a hobby again!
It can be sugar-honey-iced-tea when you wake up and realise that your only hobby has
become your job, and it’s not even a job you’re currently employed in. (It happens to the best of us, friends.) Finding someone you love that you feel no pressure to be good at (I personally am a terrifically bad watercolour portrait) can be a saving grace when you want to fill some time, clear your head, or be creative without the pressure of a paycheck.

3) A social life? Never heard of it.
See your friends and family! This is the time! You’re not in tech, you’re not on tour. In
between auditions and gigs, see the people who matter most to you. Try to see this break
from work as a gift. Time to sit with you mum, or best friend, or flatmate over tea and
actually talk, not just fling a quick life update at each other as you rush to the next
rehearsal. Help your sister plan her wedding (something I’m doing now and have about
forty Pinterest boards dedicated to). Help your flatmate rearrange her room. Get some
cocktails with your old school friends. These are the things that you wish you had time for
when you’re in a show or film, and these are the things that can often get forgotten.

4) Keep skills alive. (Sounds boring- doesn’t have to be.)
If you’re a dancer, take a class. If you’re a singer, learn some new music. Fork out for a
lesson once in a while. Practise your instruments. (Even if it’s that stupid clarinet you
thought would be a good idea. You’ve done it now, Beth. Commit!) Read plays and keep
searching for monologues. The last thing you want is to get an audition and feel like you’ve
forgotten how to do that thing you spent years training to do. Be ready, keep on it, an don’t
forget how skilled you are.

5) Make your own work.
Write, direct, film. There are a million facebook groups looking for actors and creatives for
new work. Spend your evenings and weekends doing what you love, and make something
you’re proud of. Who knows? Maybe it’ll get picked up. The next Rent, Spring Awakening,
Come From Away. They all started out small. You do you, boo.

6) Get a B Job you like. Or at least doesn’t make you want to cry.
I thrive on my bar job. Taking to people. Being in control of the music. I’ve even used it to
make some friends who live in the area. Friends! Real ones! It’s not where I want to end up
in life, but it’ll do for now. Find something that’ll do for you.

7) Don’t despair. Please.
This period can seem the loneliest of your life. And I feel you. My parents and siblings live
in a different country, almost all of my closest friends moved city after graduating, I was
close to broke, and for the first three months after grad I was in a long-distance relationship.
Loneliness and boredom was something I started to associate with my daily life and I hated
it. I was living and waiting for the next audition. Waiting for a text. Waiting for a shift at the
bar. For my friend to facetime. For anything, really. But I don’t want to wait anymore. I want
to live a fulfilled little life- whether I’m a working actor or not.

At the end of the day- I’m twenty years old. I don’t have to have a fabulously blossoming career
just yet. I can enjoy a bar work, get pinterest-obsessed, write and rewrite my poems and songs and scripts. I can have a beer, a sneaky fag (don’t tell my old singing teacher), and do Justin
Timberlake karaoke. I can laugh along to the ‘starving artist’ jokes. I can casually deflect the
questioning parents and grandparents, the ‘pay us back when you’re famous’, the comparison to
my apparently more successful peers. I don’t owe anything to anybody apart from myself- and
neither do you.


Bethany is a Scottish performer, writer, and very successful waitress. She has an accent that just won’t quit, has dreams of writing the next generation-defining album, and has just graduated from drama school. She runs a Glasgow-based performance company called Renfrew Collective, and in between sending emails and trying (failing) to come up with witty tag lines, she loves to listen to The 98% podcast to keep her sane. Almost. 
Follow her on twitter where she tries to be funny- @BethanyTennick You can find her as 'Bethany Tennick- Music' on Facebook if you want to hear some tunes.